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Essay/Term paper: End of a tragedy: the road to appomattox

Essay, term paper, research paper:  American Civil War

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The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the events surrounding the

end of the American Civil War. This war was a war of epic proportion.

Never before and not since have so many Americans died in battle. The

American Civil War was truly tragic in terms of human life. In this

document, I will speak mainly around those involved on the battlefield in

the closing days of the conflict. Also, reference will be made to the

leading men behind the Union and Confederate forces.

The war was beginning to end by January of 1865. By then, Federal

(Federal was another name given to the Union Army) armies were spread

throughout the Confederacy and the Confederate Army had shrunk extremely in

size. In the year before, the North had lost an enormous amount of lives,

but had more than enough to lose in comparison to the South. General Grant

became known as the "Butcher" (Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S.

Grant, New York: Charles L. Webster & Co.,1894) and many wanted to see him

removed. But Lincoln stood firm with his General, and the war continued.

This paper will follow the happenings and events between the winter of

1864-65 and the surrender of The Confederate States of America. All of

this will most certainly illustrate that April 9, 1865 was indeed the end

of a tragedy.


In September of 1864, General William T. Sherman and his army cleared

the city of Atlanta of its civilian population then rested ever so briefly.

It was from there that General Sherman and his army began its famous


to the sea". The march covered a distance of 400 miles and was 60 miles

wide on the way. For 32 days no news of him reached the North. He had cut

himself off from his base of supplies, and his men lived on what ever they

could get from the country through which they passed. On their route, the

army destroyed anything and everything that they could not use but was

presumed usable to the enemy. In view of this destruction, it is

understandable that Sherman quoted "war is hell" (Sherman, William T.,

Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press,

1972). Finally, on December 20, Sherman's men reached the city of Savannah

and from there Sherman telegraphed to President Lincoln: "I beg to present

you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and

plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton" (Sherman,

William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport,

Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972).

Grant had decided that the only way to win and finish the war would be

to crunch with numbers. He knew that the Federal forces held more than a

modest advantage in terms of men and supplies. This in mind, Grant


Sherman to turn around now and start heading back toward Virginia. He

immediately started making preparations to provide assistance to Sherman on

the journey. General John M. Schofield and his men were to detach from the

Army of the Cumberland, which had just embarrassingly defeated the

Confederates at Nashville, and proceed toward North Carolina. His final

destination was to be Goldsboro, which was roughly half the distance

between Savannah and Richmond. This is where he and his 20,000 troops

would meet Sherman and his 50,000 troops.

Sherman began the move north in mid-January of 1865. The only hope of

Confederate resistance would be supplied by General P.G.T. Beauregard. He

was scraping together an army with every resource he could lay his hands

on, but at best would only be able to muster about 30,000 men. This by

obvious mathematics would be no challenge to the combined forces of

Schofield and Sherman, let alone Sherman. Sherman's plan was to march

through South Carolina all the while confusing the enemy. His men would

march in two ranks: One would travel northwest to give the impression of a

press against Augusta and the other would march northeast toward

Charleston. However the one true objective would be Columbia.

Sherman's force arrived in Columbia on February 16. The city was

burned to the ground and great controversy was to arise. The Confederates

claimed that Sherman's men set the fires "deliberately, systematically, and

atrociously". However, Sherman claimed that the fires were burning when

they arrived. The fires had been set to cotton bales by Confederate

Calvary to prevent the Federal Army from getting them and the high winds

quickly spread the fire. The controversy would be short lived as no proof

would ever be presented. So with Columbia, Charleston, and Augusta all

fallen, Sherman would continue his drive north toward Goldsboro. On the

way, his progress would be stalled not by the Confederate army but by

runaway slaves. The slaves were attaching themselves to the Union columns

and by the time the force entered North Carolina, they numbered in the

thousands (Barrett, John G., Sherman's March through the Carolinas. Chapel

Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1956). But Sherman's force

pushed on and finally met up with Schofield in Goldsboro on March 23rd.


Sherman immediately left Goldsboro to travel up to City Point and meet

Grant to discuss plans of attack. When he arrived there, he found not only

Grant, but also Admiral David Porter waiting to meet with President

Lincoln. So on the morning of the March 28th, General Grant, General

Sherman, and Admiral Porter all met with Lincoln on the river boat "River

Queen" to discuss a strategy against General Lee and General Johnston of

the Confederate Army. Several times Lincoln asked "can't this last battle

be avoided?" (Angle and Miers, Tragic Years, II) but both Generals expected

the Rebels (Rebs or Rebels were a name given to Confederate soldiers) to

put up at least one more fight. It had to be decided how to handle the

Rebels in regard to the upcoming surrender (all were sure of a surrender).


made his intentions very clear: "I am full of the bloodshed. You need to

defeat the opposing armies and get the men composing those armies back to

their homes to work on their farms and in their shops." (Sherman, William

T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press,

1972) The meeting lasted for a number of hours and near its end, Lincoln

made his orders clear: "Let them once surrender and reach their homes, they

won't take up arms again. They will at once be guaranteed all their rights

as citizens of a common country. I want no one punished, treat them

liberally all around. We want those people to return to their allegiance

to the Union and submit to the laws." (Porter, David D., Campaigning with

Grant. New York: The Century Co., 1897) Well with all of the formalities

outlined, the Generals and Admiral knew what needed to be done. Sherman

returned to Goldsboro by steamer; Grant and Porter left by train back

north. Sherman's course would be to continue north with Schofield's men

and meet Grant in Richmond. However, this would never happen as Lee would

surrender to Grant before Sherman could ever get there.


General Grant returned back to his troops who were in the process of

besieging Petersburg and Richmond. These battles had been going on for

months. On March 24, before the meeting with President Lincoln, Grant drew

up a new plan for a flanking movement against the Confederates right below

Petersburg. It would be the first large scale operation to take place this

year and would begin five days later. Two days after Grant made

preparations to move again, Lee had already assessed the situation and

informed President Davis that Richmond and Petersburg were doomed. Lee's

only chance would be to move his troops out of Richmond and down a

southwestern path toward a meeting with fellow General Johnston's (Johnston

had been dispatched to Virginia after being ordered not to resist the

advance of Sherman's Army) forces. Lee chose a small town to the west

named Amelia Court House as a meeting point. His escape was narrow; they

(the soldiers) could see Richmond burn as they made their way across the


River and to the west. Grant had finally broke through and Richmond and

Petersburg were finished on the second day of April.


On April 4th, after visiting Petersburg briefly, President Lincoln

decided to visit the fallen city of Richmond. He arrived by boat with his

son, Tad, and was led ashore by no more than 12 armed sailors. The city

had not yet been secured by Federal forces. Lincoln had no more than taken

his first step when former slaves started forming around him singing

praises. Lincoln proceeded to join with General Godfrey Weitzel who had

been place in charge of the occupation of Richmond and taken his

headquarters in Jefferson Davis' old residence. When he arrived there, he

and Tad took an extensive tour of the house after discovering Weitzel was

out and some of the soldiers remarked that Lincoln seemed to have a boyish

expression as he did so. No one can be sure what Lincoln was thinking as

he sat in Davis' office. When Weitzel arrived, he asked the President what

to do with the conquered people. Lincoln replied that he no longer gave

direction in military manners but went on to say: "If I were in your place,

I'd let 'em up easy, let 'em up easy" (Johnson, Robert Underwood, and

Clarence Clough Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol 4.

New York: The Century Co., 1887).


Lee's forces were pushing west toward Amelia and the Federals would be

hot on their tails. Before leaving Richmond, Lee had asked the Commissary

Department of the Confederacy to store food in Amelia and the troops

rushed there in anticipation. What they found when they got there however

was very disappointing. While there was an abundance of ammunition and

ordinance, there was not a single morsel of food. Lee could not afford to

give up his lead over the advancing Federals so he had to move his nearly

starving troops out immediately in search of food. They continued

westward, still hoping to join with Johnston eventually, and headed for

Farmville, where Lee had been informed, there was an abundance of bacon and

cornmeal. Several skirmishes took place along the way as some Federal

regiments would catch up and attack, but the Confederate force reached

Farmville. However, the men had no more that started to eat their bacon

and cornmeal when Union General Sheridan arrived and started a fight.

Luckily, it was nearly night, and the Confederate force snuck out under

cover of the dark. But not before General Lee received General Grants

first request for surrender.


The Confederates, in their rush to leave Farmville in the night of

April 7th, did not get the rations they so desperately needed, so they were

forced to forage for food. Many chose to desert and leave for home.

General Lee saw two men leaving for home and said "Stop young men, and get

together you are straggling" and one of the soldiers replied "General, we

are just going over here to get some water" and Lee replied "Strike for

your home and fireside" (Freeman, Douglas Southall, R.E. Lee: A Biography,

Vol 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935): they did. Rebel forces

reached their objective, Appomattox Court House, around 3pm on April 8th.

Lee received word that to the south, at Appomattox Station, supplies had

arrived by train and were waiting there. However, the pursuing Union

forces knew this also and took a faster southern route to the station. By

8pm that evening the Federals had taken the supplies and would wait there

for the evening, preparing to attack the Confederates at Appomattox Court

House in the morning. Meanwhile, Lee scribbled out a brave response to

Grant's inquiry simply asking for explanation of the terms to be involved

in the surrender.


At daybreak the Confederate battle line was formed to the west of

Appomattox. The Union soldiers were in position in front of the line with

cannons. When the Federal cannons started to fire, the Confederate signal

for attack was sounded and the troops charged. One soldier later remarked:

"It was my fortune to witness several charges during the war, but

never one so magnificently executed as this one." (McCarthy, Carlton,

Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia

1861-1865. Richmond: Carlton McCarthy, 1882) This Confederate advance only

lasted from about 7am to 9am, at which time the Rebels were forced back.

The Confederates could no longer hold their lines and Lee sent word to

Grant to meet at 1pm to discuss surrender. The two men met at the now

famous McLean House and a surrender was agreed upon. It was 2pm on April 9,

1865. Johnston's army surrendered to General Sherman on April 26 in North

Carolina; General Taylor of Mississippi-Alabama and General Smith of the

trans Mississippi-Texas surrendered in May ending the war completely.


The Civil War was a completely tragic event. Just think, a war in which

thousands of Americans died in their home country over nothing more than a

difference in opinion. Yes, slavery was the cause of the Civil War: half

of the country thought it was wrong and the other half just couldn't let

them go. The war was fought overall in probably 10,000 different places

and the monetary and property loss cannot be calculated. The Union dead

numbered 360,222 and only 110,000 of them died in battle. Confederate dead

were estimated at 258,000 including 94,000 who actually died on the field

of battle. The Civil War was a great waste in terms of human life and

possible accomplishment and should be considered shameful. Before its

first centennial, tragedy struck a new country and stained it for eternity.


will never be forgotten but adversity builds strength and the United States

of America is now a much stronger nation.


"The Civil War", Groliers Encyclopedia, 1995

Catton, Bruce., A Stillness at Appomattox. New York: Doubleday, 1963

Foote, Shelby., The Civil War, Vol. 3. New York: Random, 1974

Garraty, John Arthur, The American Nation: A History of the United states

to 1877, Vol. 1, Eighth Edition. New

York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1995

Miers, Earl Schenck, The Last Campaign. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co.,


Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox, The Last Battles. Virginia: Time-Life

Books, 1987 

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